First published on Sunday the 11th of September, 2016, this piece comes in at number 8 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2016.
UPDATE (Monday 12th September, 12:30pm): The Ministry for Women has responded to our request for comment. See the Minister's response below.
It is with heavy hearts that we write this. When the Chiefs saga exploded once again this week, and we heard that NZ Rugby’s inquiry into a woman’s claims of sexual abuse was, in fact, conducted internally by the organisation’s senior counsel, interviewing the initial complainant last – after the players and the witnesses – and without talking to one of the women involved at all, we had hoped that you would stand up as the Minister for Women and be the women’s advocate that your job title suggests you should be. We hoped you’d say something.
Instead, you had “no comment” to make.
You said that you felt that the incident was “entirely a matter” for the organisation. We’re guessing that you didn’t feel that it was “entirely a matter” for the Minister for Women.
We disagree entirely. We think you were the very person for whom responding to this unfortunate event (that may or may not have included a woman being sexually abused by a pack of professional sportspeople who are held up as heroes) was an extremely important matter.
Late on Friday afternoon you posted an un-captioned tweet with a picture of a note, which said, “This is an issue that is not limited to sport, it is pervasive throughout New Zealand in all walks of life. Until men treat women equally and respectfully we will continue to have high levels of family and sexual violence.” As you didn’t mention any specifics, we can’t be sure of exactly what you were referring to. As we cannot know for certain whether you composed this note or whether it referred to the Chiefs case, we are perplexed. Is this Twitter note an official statement? Does this mean that perhaps the Chiefs situation is, in fact, a matter for the Minister for Women?
In the light of your confusing communication on this alarming issue, we are left pondering why you are the Minister for Women at all.
We’ve known from the outset that you’ve “never called [yourself] a feminist”, and that you equate feminism with some kind of “flag-waving” rather than understanding that feminism is defined as a belief in the equality of the genders. But when a woman bravely comes forward to speak out about alleged sexual abuse, endures public shaming and slander, and isn’t even afforded an independent inquiry by a powerful organisation that represents our national sport; and you couldn’t so much as offer one sentence to reinforce the importance of respecting women when contacted by the media, we wonder whether your position would be better filled by someone else. Anyone else, frankly. Even the man at the centre of an international ponytail-pulling scandal was able to speak up for Kiwi women. Yes, really.
We’re all about girl power here, so our first instinct has always been to support you in your important work as a women’s advocate, but between your dismissal of feminism, your support of beauty pageants, your platitude-heavy International Women’s Day tweet about how the ‘visibility’ of women will propel us towards equality (okay, and how exactly should women become more ‘visible’?), the statement you may as well not have bothered to release about ponytail-gate and now your response to the inquiry into the Chiefs debacle, we have been led to conclude, in our honestly held opinion, that the most significant thing you could offer to the office of the Minister for Women may just be your resignation.
Thank God we have strong women’s advocates like Dame Susan Devoy and Dr Jackie Blue. Both their statements and their actions have shown them to be truly worthy of the respect and gratitude of New Zealand women. Their leadership and staunch support of women is much closer to the kind of behaviour we’d expect from a Minister for Women.
Even if your Twitter note was a statement about the Chiefs case, we are still left wondering exactly what kind of action you would suggest, in your professional capacity as our minister, to ensure that men do treat women equally and respectfully. We are also wondering why you didn’t publicly sign the official open letter to NZ Rugby, while many other MPs and women’s advocates did.
We would implore you to speak to, and learn from, people like Dame Susan Devoy and Dr Jackie Blue. None of us are perfect, and we all make mistakes, but as the Minister for Women, we believe you simply must do better.
Editor’s note: We reached out to the Minister for Women on Friday the 9th of September to offer her the opportunity to discuss her decision not to comment on the Chiefs saga. Neither she, nor the Ministry for Women, had responded to our message at the time of publication. The Ministry for Women forwarded the following response to us at midday on Monday the 12th of September.
The Minister's response:
“It would not be appropriate for me to comment on this case or the investigations, it is entirely a matter for the RFU. As Minister for Women I am of course aware of the general media reports of these sorts of issues, where sportspeople have not upheld the high standards we expect of our role models, and where that is proven it is obviously disappointing. We rightly expect our sportspeople to uphold higher standards. Not limited to our sportspeople, it is frustrating that sexual and family violence continues to be a pervasive problem in New Zealand. That is why the Government is committed to identifying and working through the root causes of both sexual and family violence issues, and we continue to target investment and resources to Police and other appropriate agencies.”